Lessons in Life

by Sue M

Alternate Universe "The Teacher" (Old West)

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!

My thanks to Phyllis for betaing this for me, and to Ruby for her brilliant addition to the beginning of this story. Thanks also to the Darlins for their input and encouragement.

Fresh out of college, twenty year old John Daniel Dunne looked around his new home as he stepped off the stage. His smile was wide as he gazed at the buildings and the people bustling around the town. Despite all the lectures and the warnings from his professors and friends back east, he had a good feeling about this place. He looked at the piece of paper in his hand to determine where he should go next. He smiled at a young boy passing by with his mother and was rewarded with a grin. Yes, this definitely felt right. JD Dunne was here for the duration.

He soon located the offices of the "Clarion" newspaper and stepped in, and removing his hat, he approached an attractive blond female bending over a printing press.

He coughed lightly, "Excuse me ma'am, "

The woman turned to see who was there. She straightened herself up and smiled.

"Oh, hello, what can I do for you?" she asked, pushing a strand of hair from her face.

He held out his hand, "My name is John Dunne, I'm here to see Steven Travis," he offered.

The woman took the offered hand but the smile had left her face, "How do you do, John? I'm Mary Travis."

The boy gave her a huge grin, "Pleased to meet you ma'am, but you can call me JD, most everybody does. Is your husband here, sorry, he is your husband?"

Mary looked sadly at him, "Was, he was killed four months ago. Why are you here to see him?"

JD's face paled, "Oh, oh no, I'm so sorry. Uhm, I came for the apprenticeship. We've been corresponding for about a year now, though I hadn't realized I hadn't heard from him in four months. He told me to come on out here when I finished college, so here I am." He held a letter out to her, which she took and read. After a few minutes she looked up.

"John, JD, I'm so sorry, now that my husband is gone, there is no longer such a position available." She handed the letter back to him, her eyes sad and glistening.

JD stood in shock. He had traveled weeks to get to what he had hoped would be his dream job, in his dream setting. Despite his mother's wishes, he had frequently purchased Dime store novels and secretly wished he could be like the hero in the book, but he would, at least for now, settle for writing about life in the West by being a part of it. He hadn't considered this ending to his dream at all.

"Oh," was all he could think of to say.

"I'm so sorry, "Mary said again, "I had no idea you had been offered the job. I haven't been through my all of my husband's correspondence yet as I've been so busy keeping the newspaper going. I wish I could help, I really do."

JD replaced his hat and touched it lightly, "Well, thanks anyway, good day." The bell on the door jingled as he stepped through and back out into the sunshine. He was devastated; it had taken all but his last few dollars to get here only to find there was no job. His mind was buzzing as he stepped out into the street, oblivious to the rumble of the departing stage.

Chris Larabee was standing, surveying the town while leaning against a support post. The sleeves of his black shirt were rolled up, in deference to the hot weather the town was experiencing, casting aside his familiar black jacket or duster for the day. He'd watched the stage arrive and dispatch its passengers, luggage and goods and he'd watched a young Easterner, dressed in a brown bowler hat and matching wool suit, enter Mary's office. He found himself curious but didn't ponder it long, until he observed the young man leaving. Even from this distance, he could see the distraught expression on the boy's face and a strange feeling overcame him. Without realizing it, Chris had started to walk, vaguely aware of the stage driver's call to board and the low rumbling sound as the huge wheels started to turn, bringing the stage toward him. Chris's heart lurched as he realized in an instant, that the young man was oblivious to his surroundings and was stepping into the street, straight into the path of the stage. Chris's body was racing forward even before his mind had fully processed the information, and without a thought for his own safety he slammed his body against the young man, skillfully taking them both off their feet and rolling away from the horses' hooves bearing down on them, landing with a thud in a heap on the ground.

Suddenly JD was hurtling sideways as legs, arms and his luggage went in all directions, rolling to a sharp and painful stop against the opposite boardwalk. He grunted as he felt the weight of a man on top of him and then the pinch of his ribs as the body moved away. Soon it was his ears that were hurting as well.

"What the hell are you doing? Ya don't cross a street without looking!"

JD looked up, startled at an angry man dressed in black. He was so stunned all he could do was stare at him, though he desperately wanted to speak. Within a few seconds, a black man was in his face and seemed to be shouting too.

"Are you ok? Can ya hear me son? I asked if you were hurt." The man then looked to the man in black.

"Are you ok, Chris?"

Chris brushed himself off, "Yeah, I'm fine Nathan. 'He' don't look so good though." He looked down at the pale, sweaty boy sitting in the dust.

"Help me get him off the street," Nathan asked, taking the youth under his arm. Just as JD was trying to make sense of the two voices, another joined in.

"What happened?" the man asked.

"Stupid kid up and walked in front of the stage," Chris answered, bending to help the boy to his feet. "Help us get him to Nathan's, Buck."

Buck shook his head, looking at the boy's confused face, "Stupid Easterners, they get off the stage with fool ideas in their heads and they're dead before they've had time to get a room."

"Just shut up and give us a hand, Buck," Chris grunted as the boy went limp.

"Looks like he took a knock to his head," Nathan commented and the three men man-handled him to Nathan's clinic.

+ + + + + + +

JD was trying desperately to focus. He had no idea where he was and was feeling more than a little apprehensive. Suddenly a face was right next to his and he blinked to make out its features. It appeared to have a moustache.

"There y'are, 'bout time you surfaced. I was just of a mind ta slap ya around a bit to wake ya up."

JD pushed himself up a bit and despite his discomfort looked the man straight in the eyes.

"You coulda tried," he huffed, "but I'd a just slapped ya back!"

Buck laughed, "Feisty li'l thing aren't ya, kid? Ya want a drink?"

JD nodded and accepted the cup gratefully. Nathan joined them.

"You'll be fine; just a few bumps and bruises to your head and ribs, nothing a good rest won't cure," he told the boy.

"Thanks," JD said, handing him the cup, "Sorry to be a bother."

"No bother son, just a good job Chris saw you when he did. Ya got a place ta stay?" Nathan enquired.

JD shook his head, "I'd only just arrived."

Nathan patted him on the arm, "you stay here tonight where I can keep an eye on you, and you can get back to your plans in the morning."

JD's stomach churned, his plans were no more, and how the hell was he going to survive? He didn't even have enough money to get home. He looked at Buck.

"Sure would like to thank the guy that saved me."

Buck chuckled, "Kid, ya REALLY don't want ta be around Chris right now, he's a mite pissed at you, maybe tomorrow when he's simmered down."

JD slipped back down in the bed and closed his eyes; before long he was asleep.

+ + + + + + +

The morning sun streamed through the dirty pane in Nathan's window, hitting the head of the bed in the clinic and causing JD to blink. He stretched, wincing slightly at the pinch from his ribs and looked around. The room was still, but his eyes were drawn to a cot in the far corner. The loud man with a moustache was laying on it, snoring, pretty loudly, he thought. He chuckled and threw his bowler hat at the man's face, causing him to let out a large snort and sit up, reaching for his gun. He picked up the bowler and threw it back in disgust.

"Watcha do that for?" he yawned, "I was havin' me a dream 'bout some fine ladies."

JD rolled his eyes, "Well excuse me for wanting to sleep too," he grumbled. Buck chuckled and popped his back as he stretched.

"Why are you still here anyway?" JD asked.

"Don't flatter yerself." Buck answered, "just dozed off is all. You want some breakfast? I'm buyin'."

Remembering his financial predicament JD nodded, "Seeing as you were so rude to me last night, sure, why not?"

The two men entered the saloon. JD spotted the man in black sitting at a table with three other men and he shuddered, He wanted to thank him for what he'd done, but he looked more than a little unapproachable, still, it had to be done. He walked over and stretched out his hand.

"Sir, I wanted to thank you, for yesterday."

Chris drank his coffee, eyeing the boy up and down and ignoring his hand. He sucked his teeth.

"No need, you ok?"

JD looked at his hand and dropped it to his side, a little embarrassed. He dropped into an empty chair, drawing amused looks from the other men. People usually waited for Chris to offer them a seat before daring to join him, but the boy looked so dejected they let it slide. Apparently, again to their amusement, so did Chris.

"Well, if you mean traveling weeks to take up a job and using practically all your money to do it, just to find the job no longer exists ok, then yeah, I guess I'm just dandy."

The large gray haired man half-laughed, half-coughed into his napkin, causing Chris to turn to him.

"You alright there, Josiah?" He asked.

Josiah coughed once more then answered, "Perfectly fine brother, thank you for asking."

Chris then turned to the other two men, their faces partially hidden by their hats and down turned heads.

"Got somethin' ya wanna share with us?" he glared at them.

"Nope, not a thing," smirked Nathan,

"Vin?" Chris pushed.

"Nope, just appreciatin' this fine breakfast," he drawled. Chris turned back to JD, his face masking any emotion.

"What job?"

JD met his eyes, "For the Clarion News. I was gonna take an apprenticeship with Steven Travis, but he died and now there's no job."

Buck had joined them. "So how ya gonna get home?" he asked, flopping into the seat between JD and Nathan.

"I'll have to get me a job here until I've saved up, I guess." JD answered.

Buck laughed, "Oh yeah, and what's a fancy, educated, green-horn Easterner gonna find ta do in this cow-town, 'sides almost getting run over each time the stage leaves?"

JD glared at him, rose to his feet and threw his chair back toward the table.

"What the hell gives you the right to judge me? You don't even know me. I've been working as a stable boy since I was five; my mama worked hard all her life tryin' to raise me alone and save enough to put me through college. She died before she had a chance to see me finish." JD bent in closer, "thanks for breakfast," he snarled, and stormed out.

This time Chris was smirking as he watched the boy leave. He looked at Buck, who was looking more than a little embarrassed. Buck shrugged

"How was I to know?" he whined, then got up and followed JD out, "Aw hell!"

Josiah pointed after the boy, "I like him."

Chris was still smirking, "He'll do."

+ + + + + + +

JD was furious and was just about to storm into the street when he just stopped himself. 'Great, JD go an' get yourself run over,' He thought to himself. His stomach rumbled, 'and next time leave AFTER you eat.' He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Buck. He sighed

"Will you just leave me the hell alone?" JD growled.

Buck tilted his head until he met the boy's eyes. "Look, I'm sorry, I got this mouth that the ladies like but tends ta run off a bit sometimes. Come back inside and eat your breakfast."

JD looked at him, he WAS hungry. He chuckled.

"What? After such a dramatic exit?"

Buck laughed back, "Yeah, it was pretty good wasn't it?" he offered his hand, "Can we start again? I'm Buck, Buck Wilmington."

JD shook his hand and returned the smile, "John Daniel Dunne, but most everybody calls me JD."

Buck nodded and gestured toward the saloon, "Well JD, shall we?"

The banter had been light and entertaining during breakfast, all six men had seemed pretty at ease with each other. JD had divulged most of his past thanks to a barrage of questions from Buck, Josiah and Nathan. Chris and Vin sat silently listening. The batwing doors opened and they all turned to see Mary searching the interior. Her eyes rested on JD.

"Oh good, you're still here," she smiled; "Might I have a word with you?" she pointed outside and JD rose to his feet, returning her smile as they stepped outside.

"Perhaps the position has become available again," Josiah wondered.

"Guess we'll soon find out," Buck said, looking back after them.

Back in Mary's office, she showed JD some paperwork. "We've been trying to start a school here, but so far no one seems interested in the position, we have advertised it extensively. I was wondering, seeing as you're well educated, and no longer have the job you came here for, would you be interested in taking the position on? Albeit temporary, until something better for you, or another applicant, comes along."

JD's mouth dropped open. Teaching? It was something he had never even remotely considered. But this was not the time for being choosy; he needed money and shelter until he could figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

"What would your terms be?" he asked trying to keep his voice calm.

"Well we thought twelve dollars a week to start and you could take the room above the building we intend to use as a schoolhouse for free, if you'd like."

It was all JD could do to stop himself from picking up this woman and swinging her around while whooping loudly. He looked back at her calmly.

"It would be all right to teach my own curriculum?" he asked.

"Oh yes, as long as it correctly covered the basics."

JD could no longer hide his smile. "When can I start?"

Mary was delighted, "Oh how wonderful. Well, let me see, the schoolhouse will need to be prepared and of course, you'll want to settle in to your new home. Shall I tell the children's families three weeks?"

JD extended his hand, "If I can get paid as of now, then it's a deal!"

Mary shook his hand warmly, "Oh yes, of course. Shall we meet here in an hour so that I can show you where you'll be living and working from?"

JD nodded, "I'll be here."

He practically ran back to the saloon, bursting through the door, addressing the men he'd just left.

"I got me a job!" he announced.

"Where, son?" Josiah enquired.

"The town's starting a school and I'm gonna be the teacher."

Buck snorted, "A teacher? That's a sissy job."

JD glared at him, "How much a week do you make, Buck?"

Buck straightened, "A dollar a day plus board and lodge."

"Well, I'm starting at twelve dollars a week plus board. Still think its sissy!"

The men snickered; unexpectedly, Vin spoke.

"Sounds good kid. D'ya think you'll need a hand?"

JD flashed him a dazzling smile, "Most definitely, thanks." He turned as a well dressed man entered the saloon.

"Ezra," Buck called, "you're just in time to help us build a school."

Ezra snorted, "Mister Wilmington, as thrilled as I am at the offer, these skilled and somewhat delicate hands were never meant for manual labor." He looked at JD as his friends groaned at his remarks. "And who might this young fellow be?"

JD extended his hand, "John Daniel Dunne, but most everybody calls me JD."

+ + + + + + +

Almost three weeks later and the "school" was almost ready, situated at the end of town nearest the jail. JD had contacted two of his favorite professors from Boston and they had graciously sent him some text books, writing books and pencils. The town council had put together the desks and chairs and organized a chalkboard. JD's new friends had helped as much as they could but their duties often took them away for days at a time. JD found himself secretly missing them when they left. Chris was always around but kept a respectable distance from the frenzied activity. Buck would not elaborate but had hinted at Chris having good reason. JD didn't pursue it.

His room above the school was everything he could have hoped for, light airy and reasonably large. He did get lonely sometimes but would content himself by preparing lessons and ideas

The morning the school was due to open, JD found himself to be extremely nervous. He couldn't be more prepared, but it was still unknown territory. All but Chris had come to wish him well, including Mary and he looked to the clock as it showed 9am. At 9.05am he started to wonder if anyone would come, when a pair of blue eyes peeked around the classroom door. JD smiled wide and gestured to come in. Soon five little people stood before him, two boys and three girls. He welcomed them and asked them to find a seat. By 9.30am, he had twelve children sitting with him and was assured that, for now, this would be his class. He felt sure he should have had sixteen students, but for now that could wait. He turned to the children and smiled.

"Good morning, my name is Mister Dunne, and for the next four hours, I hope we can have a little fun as well as learning new things."


"Ok, if you tell me your names one by one, I'll write them on the chalkboard for you to see what the letters in your name look like." He pointed to the first child, a girl. "What's your name?" he asked.

The little girl blinked hard and whispered "Anne".

JD smiled and nodded, "Pleased to meet you Anne, this is how the letters in your name look." He wrote the letters on the board, sounding them out as he wrote. Anne smiled. The children soon warmed to this and eventually he had twelve names written on the board, finally adding his own. The children still seemed a little subdued and an idea popped in his head to relax them.

Outside the jail sat Chris, Vin and Buck, all looking back at the school.

"Shouldn't there have been a few more?" Buck asked.

Chris nodded, "Some parents thought JD was too young to teach, they kept their children at home."

Buck turned to look at him, "Does JD know?"

Chris shook his head, "Figured what he don't know, can't hurt him."

Buck nodded. Suddenly screams could be heard from the school and the three men were instantly on their feet, guns drawn and racing toward it. They burst through the door to find twelve children and one near-adult screaming, shaking their hands and stamping their feet while laughing. The children's faces turned from joy to fear as they saw the guns. JD stood in front of them and held up his right hand to his friends.

"Fellas, your weapons, you're scaring the children." He turned back to the children and soothed them, telling them to sit down.

The three men hastily holstered their guns and Chris stepped forward.

"JD, what the he... what's going on here?" he growled.

"Nothing," the boy answered, "just getting them to relax is all."

Buck chuckled, Chris glared and crooked his finger at the boy and he approached. "I'll talk to you later," he breathed, only JD, Buck and Vin heard him. JD gulped and nodded and the three left.

JD turned back to his class with a quick smile, "Numbers," he said, "Let's find out how old you all are."

+ + + + + + +

As JD approached the saloon that evening, he hesitated, he'd been avoiding this moment all afternoon. Taking a deep breath, he walked in. All six pairs of eyes turned to him, most were smiling, but one pair glared.

"Sit!" Chris said, pushing out a chair with his foot. JD sat.

Chris continued, his eyes never leaving the boy's eyes for a second. "If you ever do anything like that again, I'm gonna hang you from the roof of the school by your britches 'til ya get hit by lightening."

Buck ducked his head to hide a laugh. Chris glared at him then slowly and deliberately turned back to JD. The youth was indignant.

"It was just a bit of fun, Chris, you can't tell me what to do while I'm in the classroom."

Five intakes of breath could be heard. Chris stood and slowly walked over to JD, hoisting him up by his waist coat to get him to eye-level.

"This is the West," he snarled, "we don't take kindly to sudden moves or loud noises."

JD paled and nodded his head, "Ok, ok, I understand. I'm sorry. I'll try not to do it again."

Chris dropped him back into his chair, "See that you don't!" and he left, his spurs chinking menacingly as he walked.

JD looked around the group that was left, "Jeeze, he's mean when he's mad."

Ezra chuckled, "Oh that wasn't mad, Mister Dunne. For Mister Larabee, that was barely miffed."

JD shuddered, "I'm going to bed," and he left with a very subdued 'goodnight'.

As he left, JD went to adjust his hat and realized he had gone straight to the saloon without his hat or his jacket, it was such a warm evening and he had been a little distracted by his impending meeting with Chris. He decided he would collect it from the school. As he passed an alley on the way back to the school, someone grabbed him by his hair and ran him into a wall. Just before JD slipped to the ground in shock and pain, a voice hissed in his ear.

"Hey, sissy boy, get used to this, you're gonna get a lot more of it as long as you stick around here with yer fancy ideas. We don't need people like you in our town, stirring up folk and putting thoughts in our kid's heads. Leave, or if I ever see you wearing guns boy, I'll call you out and kill you."

The grip on JD was released and the boy started slipping to the ground, then cowered as a hand held his shoulder. Chris's voice floated down through the fog.

"What the hell happened here?"

The youth tried to speak but no words would form.

Chris jogged back the few feet to the saloon entry, calling over the doors,
"I need some help here," causing the regulators to jump from their seats and follow him to the alley."

Buck touched JD's bloody face, "Aw hell kid."

The next thing JD knew, he was lying on the bed in his room, surrounded by six men. He tried to sit up but Nathan's hand gently pushed him back down.

"Take it easy, give yourself a minute."

Buck leaned in. "Do you remember what happened?"

JD looked back at him, frowning, then his eyes widened in fear.

"Take it easy, you're safe here, take your time," Buck soothed.

The youth looked around the six faces, "A man called me a sissy, said I was gonna fill the children's heads with fancy ideas..." he swallowed hard and Nathan helped him take a sip of water.

"He said...if he ever saw me wearing guns, h...he was gonna call me out an' kill me."

An angry rumble went around the room as they saw how JD looked hurt by the words.

"What am I doing wrong?" he asked.

Buck was furious, "Nuthin', so forget it, the guy's an ass wipe. If you ever get an idea who he is, you come to me; I'll show him some of MY fancy ideas." He looked at Chris.

"Well, you sure as hell can't teach school with a face full of bruises," Chris decided, "so I'd best go tell Mary..."

"NO!" JD shouted, and then softened his voice, "no Chris, that would mean he won. I'm fine, and I can teach class tomorrow, they're kids but they're not stupid, they'll understand."

Chris pondered for a moment then nodded, "Ok, it's your decision, but we're gonna take turns keeping an eye on things."

JD started to protest.

"Those are my terms; it's that or no school."

JD reluctantly agreed, "Fine," he huffed.

"That's settled then," Buck smiled. "And I'll take first watch!"

+ + + + + + +

Two weeks later and Ezra was looking at the pencil drawings adorning the classroom wall with interest.

"Some of these are quite good," he commented, "You've certainly brought out the best in your students, you're doing a fine job, Mister Dunne."

"Thanks Ezra," he answered, "But it's all them, I just found a way to tap into it." He looked at the gambler.

"Ezra, can I ask you a question?"

Ezra turned to him, "Of course, ask away."

JD took a deep breath, "If someone kept taunting you and insisted on calling you out if you wore guns, would you wear 'em and get it over with?"

Ezra cocked an eye at him, "That would suggest the reprobate has been talking to you again, am I right?"

"Yeah, just don't tell Buck or Chris, I don't want any trouble, this is my problem, not theirs."

"On the contrary JD, this is OUR problem, a problem we take very seriously. Please reconsider your position on this; we can't help you if we are not in possession of all the facts."

JD sighed, "Yeah, I'll think on it." He looked up as Buck entered.

"Y'all done fer today? You wanna get some dinner?"

JD nodded, "Sounds good. Ezra, you joinin' us?"

"Alas, I have a patrol, but I thank you for the offer."

"I think he means no," Buck chuckled earning a snort from Ezra.

Ezra left for his patrol and JD prepared to lock up the school for the day. Buck pushed something into JD's hand and the boy looked down to see a gun.

"What's this for, Buck?" he asked.

"Put it in your drawer. You should have something to protect yourself."

JD gave it straight back, "This is a classroom, Buck, and I won't have guns in here."

Buck opened the desk drawer and tossed the gun inside toward the back, slamming it shut.

"We'll discuss it over dinner," he threatened. JD rolled his eyes.

As he and Buck walked across to the restaurant JD could see his tormentor, Jed Crouch, staring at him. The boy tried to ignore him but could feel his anger rising. Buck was rattling on oblivious when he realized his friend was stalking off in a different direction. He trotted after him.

JD was right in the man's face.

"Why don't you just leave me the hell alone? I'm not leaving, so get used to it!"

Jed spat in the dirt, "Talking kinda brave fer a runt, ain't ya? Is that 'cause ya got yer little friend chasing after ya?"

"I don't need help to deal with the likes of you," JD fumed.

"Then go git yer guns, runt!" the man spat back at him.

Buck had arrived, "Is this him?" he snarled.

"Leave it, Buck," JD pleaded.

"Like hell I will!" Buck was in the guy's face. JD looked at the two, and then walked back to the school.

The man addressed his companions, "Aww, look fellas, he's running away."

By now, Vin had arrived and approached Buck. "C'mon Bucklin', he ain't worth shit."

Buck was just about to say something when his jaw dropped open as he saw JD returning, wearing a gun belt which held a pair of twin pearl-handled Colts.

"Shit!" Vin and Buck said together, and then Buck added, "Get Chris."

JD took the stairs to his room two at a time. As he entered, his eyes scanned the room and fell on the gun belt hanging from his coat stand. He took it and clipped it around his waist, looking at himself in his full-length mirror. His mother's words rang in his ears,

"Sweetheart, bullies are just cowards, they're all talk until you face them and then they fade away. Always be strong my darling, you will always be the better man because your heart is pure."

"Sure hope you're right mama," he said to himself, tossing his hat on his bed as he headed back out of the door.

As JD reached the bully, Chris had arrived, along with Josiah and Nathan. Buck approached them.

"Ya gotta stop this, Chris," he stated, "He's gonna get himself killed."

Chris just looked at the scene playing out in front of him. JD had stopped in front of Jed, staring back at him.

"Well, I'm here," he offered. He thought, just for a moment, he saw fear in the man's eyes.

"Let's do this," Jed snarled then took his position, JD did the same.

Buck was in Chris's face, "DO SOMETHING, OR I WILL!"

Chris's heart was heavy, "Buck, it's his call. If he feels this is his only way out, who are we to stop him?"

"Stop him anyway," Buck pleaded.

"So we stop this, d'ya really think he'd stay then?"

"Maybe not, but he'd be alive." Buck growled.

Chris looked to Josiah who closed in on Buck, and then he looked to JD who appeared no more than a young boy as he stood there in his shirtsleeves and waist coat, his hair falling over his eyes.

"JD," Chris called, the youth looked at him, "change yer mind if ya want to."

Jed and JD stared at each other, each man waiting for the other to move. Suddenly Jed relaxed.

"Look, this is stupid; we don't need to do this."

JD was shocked, his mama had been right. With a look of disgust, JD started to turn away when suddenly, from nowhere, a voice in his head said 'watch your back.'

As JD turned his body, he drew his gun and fired, a split second before Jed, falling to the ground as he lost his balance. The noise of the two shots seemed deafening and as the noise and the dust started to clear, JD watched as Jed fell in slow motion to the ground, dead.

For a minute no one moved, frozen in time as the events unfolded and the two bodies lay on the ground. Only when JD tried to push himself up on shaky legs did Buck move. He put his strong arms around the boy's waist to slide up under his arms and hauled him up, out of the dirt. Looking him over, Buck realized JD was unharmed. Not caring who was watching Buck hugged the boy to his chest hard and JD returned the embrace, grateful for the support. After a short while, Chris joined them and put his hand on the dark head.

"C'mon, let's get a drink."

Buck nodded in acknowledgement, and then looked at JD. "Since when can you shoot?"

JD smiled weakly at him, "Just 'cause I don't wear my guns, don't mean I don't know how to use em." His face turned a shade of green and he raced off to the alley to empty his stomach.

+ + + + + + +

A few days later as class was half-way through the day, all the children had wanted to talk about was their "hero" teacher who killed the bad guy. In exasperation, JD halted the discussion yet again.

"If we can't move on from this subject, I might seriously think of going back to Boston."

The children's chatter stopped dead. Jake Charvis looked at him with huge eyes, blinking.

"Ya wouldn't leave us would ya, Mister Dunne?"

Anne touched his arm, "Please don't leave us, we'll be good."

JD flashed them one of his brilliant smiles, "We'll see. Let's finish these letters." He noticed a hand go up, "Yes Amos?"

"I lost my pencil." As the rest of the children took their seats, JD turned to the chalk-board, "There's a pencil in my desk drawer, Amos, help yourself."

The little boy opened the drawer but found something right at the back much more interesting than a pencil. He picked up the gun and stared at it in awe, turning it around in his hand. He pulled the hammer back.

JD heard the familiar click and turned slowly. He tried not to show alarm as he saw what Amos had done. Trying to keep his voice calm, he held out his hand to the boy.

"Amos, let me take that for you, I should put it somewhere safe." The little boy stared at him blinking; the other children were starting to watch the scene slowly unfold.

"You ok there, Amos?" JD said softly, slowly edging forward, "Shall I take it for you now?"

As JD's words started sinking in, Amos held the gun out toward his teacher's open hand.

The bang made the children jump, Amos fell backward, dropping the gun.

JD felt a punch to his stomach followed by a sharp burning pain. He felt his knees giving way as he put his right hand to the source of the pain. He looked down as his hand and clothes became saturated in blood and with a grunt he fell forward to the ground. The children edged forward and were suddenly aware of the growing red stain on the ground around JD.

They all screamed.

All six regulators were at the jail, going over the day's business. As it concluded, they started back out to the boardwalk, Josiah turned to the others.

"Did anyone else hear a gunshot?"

"Can't say for sure," answered Nathan, they were now all outside the jail. The sound of screaming from the schoolhouse assaulted their ears. Buck chuckled.

"Lord, what's that boy got them doin' now?"

Chris moved forward as he saw one of the children running toward them, she seemed to be heading for Nathan. Chris halted her.

"Kitty, what's wrong?"

The little girl looked at him through watery eyes.

"Amos killed Mister Dunne; ya gotta come quick, Mister Nathan."

For a moment they all frowned at each other, then Buck went pale, "Oh, dear God!"

They all started running for the schoolhouse, greeted by eleven screaming children. Ezra and Josiah tried to calm them while Chris, Buck Vin and Nathan went inside.

Buck started shaking when he saw JD. "Aw hell, kid."

Nathan carefully rolled JD over to assess the damage. The boy's face revealed the pain he felt as he screwed his eyes up to fight it.

Chris dropped down on one knee to the ground and lightly touched JD's face to get his attention.

"JD, what happened? How did Amos get hold of a gun?"

JD managed to open his eyes a little but was unable to focus well as another wave of pain hit him.

"D...drawer..." he panted, "m...m...my fault...I forgot."

His words faded on his lips as he passed out.

Buck was white, "Oh my God. This is my fault, why can't I just mind my own business?" The man was distraught.

Nathan knew time was tight, "We gotta get him to the clinic, now."

+ + + + + + +

The landing outside Nathan's clinic was full as five regulators and Mary waited for news. Finally a very bloody Nathan emerged and hopeful eyes turned to him.

"I can't be sure," he began, "I got the bullet out but he lost so much blood and he's got such a fever, I just don't know."

Buck pushed past him and entered the clinic. Chris stared, unblinking as he watched his oldest friend disappear. He turned and slammed both his hands down on the rail.

"This is crazy," he growled, "the kid just survived a showdown, and for what? To be gunned down by a seven year old?" He turned to his friends, glaring at them, then pushed through them and on down the stairs to the street.

Buck looked down at the young man lying motionless on the bed, his chest bare, exposing the bandages around his middle. He looked at the sweat soaked hair as it clung to JD's head, sweat glistening on his skin, pooling in the hollow just at the base his throat. Turning, the big man dragged a chair across to the bed and sat down. Still watching the boy, his hand reached out to the basin next to the bed and, wringing water from the cloth, he gently mopped at the boy's face and neck, repeating the action several times to remove the oily sheen of the fever. Replacing the cloth he took JD's small hand in his and sighed.

"JD, I'm so sorry, I only wanted to keep you safe. I'm such a fool; I can't keep myself out of anyone's business, and look where it's gotten you. If I could switch places with you, I would, in a heartbeat. I don't know what it is about you kid, but I just wanna watch out for you, keep you safe, teach you how to look after yourself. Did a good job o' that didn't I? Please come back to us, it's too quiet without you. JD? Please? Don't leave li'l brother." He bowed his head and softly wept.

+ + + + + + +

The next two days saw the town, in a somber mood. In the saloon, four of the regulators sat waiting for news, taking turns looking in on the young teacher. Buck and Nathan had barely left JD's side since the accident.

As Chris patrolled the town he stopped at the schoolhouse. The building was locked, but outside was awash with wildflowers, pictures and letters from the children. He moved closer and read one of the notes attached to a picture of JD and a child, at least that's what he thought it was meant to be. The note read:

Plees donnt diey

Chris felt a lump in his throat. He quickly shook it off and walked away.

Later that day, at the clinic, Nathan had just finished changing JD's bandages for the second time, and was settling the unconscious boy back down on clean sheets. He nodded to Buck, Vin and Josiah, who were there visiting and who had helped him.

"Thanks for your help fellas. I can take it from here if ya wanna go eat."

Josiah smiled, "How about WE stay here and you go eat?"

Nathan nodded, "OK, I'll do that, thanks," and he left the three men with JD, in the room.

Buck sighed, "I'll stay, you go'n help Chris."

"I'm good here, thank you, Buck," Josiah answered.

"Reckon I can sit a spell," Vin added.

Buck smiled and resumed his position near the bed, he found himself gently holding the young man's hand, willing him to wake up.

Half an hour later, something caused Buck to look down at the youth. He'd felt a tiny movement from JD's hand and he leaned in.

"JD? Kid, can ya hear me?"

Vin and Josiah jerked awake. They had been gently dozing in the quiet, warm, confined room and were now also looking at the boy on the bed.

Buck tried again, "JD? Come on, you can do it." He pushed back the hair from JD's eyes, and was rewarded by a small swallow, and one eye peeping at him. He cracked a huge smile.

"Hey, how ya doin'?"

JD opened both eyes and looked at him, clearly unsure of his whereabouts. Josiah spoke.

"Hello son, you've been a mite poorly, but it looks like that's behind ya now."

Buck helped JD take a few sips of water. JD looked at him.

"Th...thanks," he whispered. Vin looked to Josiah and Josiah nodded as Vin left. The tracker raced down the steps of the clinic and hurried to the saloon where he found Chris and Ezra. He looked directly at Chris and the corners of Chris's mouth turned up slightly as he nodded.

+ + + + + + +

Chris walked into Nathan's clinic to a noisy disagreement between Buck and JD.

"Tell him Chris, he can't leave, the children need him, WE need him, hell I need him." Buck argued.

"I think it's best if I go back to Boston, Buck. I've been nothing but trouble since I got here. I just think it's for the best," JD sighed.

Chris approached him, "JD, it's your choice, but know this, if you ever leave teaching, I'd be proud to ride with you."

Buck beamed, sitting back in his seat as if he'd won a point. JD stared in disbelief.

"Gee, thanks Chris, really?" He grinned.

"I don't repeat myself, kid, but in case you don't know how people feel about you here, just look into the corner there and remind yourself," Chris gestured to a corner of Nathan's clinic where an assortment of pictures, letters and wildflowers sat together in a little huddle. He'd brought them up from outside the schoolhouse. The children had wanted JD to know they were missing him and as soon as they had received word of his recovery they had set to work, adding to the collection.

JD's grin grew and his eyes misted over as he looked across. "Guess I've got me some thinking to do."

Buck nodded, smiling. JD noticed that Chris was preparing to leave.

"Actually, ya know, Chris, I might just take you up on that offer someday, but I wanna be sheriff." He snickered softly to himself and settled down in the bed for a nap.

The men chuckled as they watched him drift off. Buck looked up at Chris as he was leaving.

"He wasn't serious though was he? Chris, was he?"

Chris walked out, glancing quickly at the two men left in the room and smiling to himself.

"Yep, he'll do."